Sermon Acts 11:1-18 “Breaking New Ground” April 28, 2013
Nobody likes change. We all know that about ourselves and about others. But we also know that change is inevitable. Things change; we change and the rules of society, politics, religion, they change too. Faced with change we can choose to go along, decide to rebel, or split the difference and find something good in the whole thing. No matter what our decision, the moment of decision will determine how we proceed in our lives.
Initially, Peter wasn’t comfortable with the changes he was challenged to accept as he heard the Word of God giving light to something quite different than Peter knew and understood. It seemed to be God speaking so Peter not only complied with this huge ground swell of change; he became an advocate to help make the transition happen. The results of that decision determined the course of Christianity. Suddenly, God’s word of hope would be open and available to any with a desire to embrace it and make it a part of their lives. Not just the historically chosen people, but all people, anywhere and everywhere.
Christian churches, over time have had to make necessary changes in the way they receive and assimilate new people who may have new and quite different ideas about their lives in general and church life in particular. To grow a church community means having to adjust to new means of communicating God’s message. Sometimes it means hearing that message in a new way. The “We have always done it that way” mindset really doesn’t work any more and probably never did. Every community reorders itself into a new image of “being the church” depending on the make up of those who presently attend. What we all have been exposed to in our secular lives finds its way into church life so our patterns of behavior, our music, the means by which we celebrate a worship service, the use of media, social networking, and liturgical activities, these all flavor our church experience in 2013 differently than worship in the 1950’s, ‘60’s or ‘70’s.
Of course, we are tempted, at least initially, to resist just as Peter did to the suggestion by this disembodied voice telling him to kill and eat animals that he had always viewed as profane or unclean. “ No way Lord. I’ve never put anything unclean or profane in my mouth or consumed anything that was strictly forbidden by my faith.” Yet Peter was commanded to act out of his comfort zone and do the unthinkable, to accept those into the faith who were not of his nation.
So often, we are too. God is constantly pushing us to resist the temptation of getting too comfortable in our same-nesses. We get stuck in the places where our own preconceptions, prejudices, and stereotyping control both our thinking and our behavior. Faith in God isn’t really about doing everything exactly as we always have…it’s about changing, about having those transformational experiences, which guide us closer and deeper into a relationship with God. As Peter and those who were listening to him would come to know, opening the doors wider in order to allow a more eclectic, believing body to walk through would also lead to a greater and richer experience of who God is. They would come to know, in a new way, how Christ had lived out God’s presence among them. It would deepen their faith and they would become more nearly the disciples Christ had called to serve God and God’s world.
But none of it comes easily to us. We are creatures of habits. Even when we take a step forward and seek to be more modern and “with it”, we come face to face with our reluctance to change the way things have always been done. We ignore those experiences that could enrich our faith. I’ve discovered that even in those times when I’ve set something new in place, I may not recognize what new thing can be born in the moment.
So, let me give you an example:
For quite some time now I’ve been posting my sermons on our church web page. It’s a fairly easy process once you know the trick. As long as I have the word “sermon” on the same line as title and the scripture and as long as I check off the box reading “sermons” under the various categories, the posted entry should appear without problem. Of course, initially, the process of posting anything online was very new and frankly, a bit intimidating. It’s one thing to preach a sermon on a Sunday; an entirely different experience to realize that that sermon is forever available for anyone, anywhere who might see it and read it. By posting my sermons, I had suddenly multiplied my congregation and my audience by an untold number of readers. And, unlike a Sunday Sermon preached in a sanctuary, these unknown readers could comment about what they had read immediately. I just didn’t realize they were!
Those of you familiar with posting on Facebook or Twitter might find it amusing that in my naiveté, I didn’t see the alerts coming up indicating there were messages waiting for me to open. About three days ago, I saw them. Being curious, I opened them and to my surprise at least 2 of the 7 were from strangers…people I didn’t know. I had entered a new world! But was it a welcome one? Did I really want to get comments about what I had said in a sermon from complete strangers? They could say anything…they could agree, disagree, be nice, be nasty. In the anonymity of social media, something we had set up by going online in the first place, something I had encouraged when I decided to post my sermons in that world of chat, my thoughts, my reflections were now open to be viewed by anyone and that was a scary thought especially for someone of my age and generation.
But, I also have to admit, I found it rather exhilarating and challenging. God had opened a door I hadn’t planned on walking through to reach beyond these sanctuary walls to perhaps fellow Christians or to potential followers of Christ…people who didn’t know our scriptures or understand our faith. I was witnessing as Peter had been called to witness, witnessing to metaphorical Gentiles, those beyond our community of faith. Posting those sermons on line, posting anything on line…our calendar, newsletter, whatever, had the power to reach much farther than or efforts would be without the vehicle and tool of an online presence. I hadn’t even thought it through enough to see how potential powerful and influential making a relatively simple and easily executed decision like posting my sermons could be. Wow! I felt a bit like Peter viewing all those once profane and unclean foods and hearing another way to interpret them.
How are we being called to witness and to whom? Well, we might not know exactly. The rules keep changing; the opportunities may not be clothed in garments we recognize. But, clearly, God is breaking through invited the young and the old to explore a different way to share the gospel. It may be media in the sanctuary. It may be a different kind of music mingled with our more familiar hymns. It may be inviting all ages – from the youngest to the oldest to participate in the worship at the level of capability. It may be recognizing that what we are called to do is “invite” and leave the transformation of spirit and mind in the hands of God. Whatever ways we are being called to witness, God will provide us with opportunity laced with challenges to our engrained habits. We will certainly be surprised how the smallest gesture of welcome, the smallest effort to recognize another’s need, the gift of presence, hospitality and hope to whoever is in our sanctuary, to whoever might visit us online, to whoever might stand outside our doors aching to find something within can turn the profane and the secular into something quite wonderful and lasting. Peter, having been challenged to break through “what had been” to “what might be”, became the voice, which challenged the Church and the Church grew. The message of Christ’s Good News spread and Christianity became a universal force for good. We still have work to do, but we know we are not alone in our efforts. God will guide us and give us what we need. Amen.